Along for the Ride

When the Pacific National Exhibition was launched in 1910, it was seen as a showcase of B.C. to Canada and the rest of the world. One hundred years on, it’s the summer entertainment highlight for almost a million visitors, as well as several PNE regulars

Last Band Standing

Dal Richards grew up in Marpole and remembers riding in the back of a 1920s Chevy to the exhibition grounds, which seemed to be a long way out in those days. The 92-year-old bandleader’s earliest memory of the PNE goes back to when he was seven.

“I was here with my parents and got temporarily lost from them on the midway. I was standing in front of a barker on a stage and he beckoned me to come up the stairs where he promptly put me in a straitjacket – so my first ever appearance on a stage at the PNE was in a straitjacket.”

Richards began playing the clarinet in the Kitsilano Boys Band in his youth, and his first official gig at the PNE was in 1931. Eighty years later, he continues to entertain audiences on the PNE stages where he and his 14-piece orchestra perform two shows daily during the 17-day fair.

Sweet Memories

Jack Hunter’s hat has been his trademark for more than 30 years. “My surrogate son in Mexico sends me three new ones every year, and I always throw one of ’em up in the tree in front of my foot-long [hotdog] location at the PNE. I never see it the next year, so someone gets it.” The 79-year-old concession stand operator says a love of people is what keeps him in the game after all these decades. 

Hunter made his PNE debut when he was just 11 years old, leading ponies in a pony ring. Since then he’s worked rides and midway games and pitched kitchen gadgets, before eventually settling on the food business. He now owns a number of hotdog, corn-dog and cotton-candy trailers that operate during the exhibition. 

Smooth Operator

Mike Seneviratne started working at the PNE in 1972 on a bottle ring toss game. It was his first job. He liked it so much he decided to stick around; today, the 49-year-old is director of operations at Playland, responsible for capital planning, attraction acquisitions and overseeing various departments at the amusement park. But above all else, he adds, “I get to work at a place where people come to have fun with their families.” 

Seneviratne says he’s excited about this year’s concert lineup and having the BC Lions play at the PNE’s Empire Field. He thinks the 100-year anniversary party will prove to be one of the highlights of his career – even topping the time he hooked up actor Mel Gibson for a private ride on the roller-coaster. n